SPECIAL REPORT, DAY 1: Heroin epidemic: ‘Without divine intervention, we know how this ends’

Janet’s son Simon died a year ago from a heroin overdose.

He was 30 when he died, which occurred four months after his girlfriend also died of an overdose.

“He couldn’t cope at all, between the addiction and the grieving,” she says. 

Just weeks previously, the family brought Simon to Cork University Hospital’s psychiatric wing as he was “ráméising, holding pictures of his girlfriend, the baby, talking about suicide”, said Janet.

Simon also had a prescription drug habit and Janet said she was shocked at how high he seemed when at CUH.

He stayed at CUH as an inpatient but, just as he was about to be discharged, he had a seizure. & Staff at the emergency department were horrified at his mental state and, after much arguing with the mental health unit, they ensured that he was readmitted to the psychiatric ward.

“We have no idea why they were discharging him in the state he was in,” says Janet. “Was it because of cutbacks? Do they not want to deal with addiction?

“Very often with heroin addicts, they have an addiction and a mental illness.”  

“He was off his face when we collected him from the hospital. I had said to the nurse ‘how is he like this?’, she couldn’t answer me and then they gave me a prescription the length of my arm. He had no medical card of course, as he’d lose it and then not re-apply for it, he’d lost his driving licence, his passport, every ID. His life, his flat, it was all chaos.”

Janet says Simon liked sport and had been doing a sports course but she had always worried about his drinking and knew he smoked hash. Her worry reached a new level when she learned his girlfriend was smoking heroin.

“I remember thinking then, unless there is divine intervention, we know how this will end,” she said.

Janet says for the three years Simon was smoking and injecting heroin, she “lived in fear of the phone”.

Heroin robbed Janet of her son but when he was alive it destroyed family occasions. Even the birth of her first grandchild was dampened by heroin.

“These things in your life that you should be able to celebrate, they were all ruined. Even when his child was born, we knew straight away that the baby would be taken off them but they couldn’t see it at all, it was everybody else’s fault. The joy was just gone from all these things: family celebrations, birth, christenings”.

They’d invite Simon for dinner on a Sunday. “Then you’d ring him to see where he was and you’d hear the voice, the slur, ‘zub-zub’ we called it, and it would be ‘forget about it’.”

Christmas day, she says, you didn’t know what condition he’d arrive in, what he’d have with him.

“We would always avoid going up to my parents’ house, you didn’t know what he’d be like. He’d come around visiting people and he’d try and keep it together for the family but he wasn’t. And then there was a fear that you didn’t want to be leaving him out of things, but if he was over you’d hide the wine, we’d never know what he had taken and what could happen with drink?”. 

But Simon got off heroin. He had been clean for a couple of weeks when he bumped into an old friend. They had a few drinks and Simon asked him back to his flat. At the inquest, the friend said Simon said he had “some of the brown stuff”.

That night, with his friend drinking beside him, Simon overdosed. “We still don’t know if it was accidental or suicidal, as heroin is lethal if you take it after being clean,” says Janet.

Months later, as she walked out of her son’s inquest, she thanked the friend for giving evidence, shook his hand, and said: “Please don’t go down that road.”

READ THE FULL REPORT HERE

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